A Guide to Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): Steps and Certification

Medically Reviewed By Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
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Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an emergency lifesaving procedure. It helps maintain blood and oxygen flow through the body when a person is not breathing or their heart stops. The type of CPR to administer will depend on whether a person is an adult, a young child, or an infant. The main difference is the amount of pressure to apply when performing chest compressions. 

Read on to learn how to perform CPR and get a CPR certificate.

What should you do before you perform CPR?

A person performs chest compressions on a test doll
Mihajlo Maricic / EyeEm/Getty Images

There are a few quick things to do before performing CPR. These things can improve the outcome of CPR and a person’s chances of survival. They include:

  • checking if the environment is safe for the person
  • checking for responsiveness, breathing, and bleeding 
  • calling 911 if the person is unconscious, not breathing, or bleeding profusely

After you have done these things, you can begin CPR.

What are the steps of CPR?

CPR steps
Medical illustration by Bailey Mariner

The steps of CPR differ slightly depending on whether a person is an adult, a child, or an infant. The key difference is the amount of pressure to apply when performing chest compressions.

Follow these steps to perform CPR:

  1. Place the person on a firm, flat surface.
  2. If the person is an adult, rest your palm in the middle of their chest. If the person is a child, use just one hand here. Use two fingers for an infant.
  3. If the person is an adult, put your second hand over the first one and bring your shoulders directly over your hands.
  4. Compress to a depth of about 2 inches (5 centimeters) and allow the chest to recoil. Push to a depth of 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) in the case of an infant.
  5. Make 30 similar compressions at a rate of 100–120 per minute.

You can also give the person rescue breaths if you have formal CPR training. Keep in mind that the standard procedure is Compressions, Airway, Breathing (CAB). 

Follow these steps to give the breaths:

  1. Place your palm on the person’s forehead and tilt your head back. 
  2. Gently lift their chin forward with your other hand to open the airway.
  3. Close the person’s nostrils and cover their mouth with yours to make a seal.
  4. Give the first breath.
  5. Check to see if the chest rises when you give the breath. 
  6. If the chest does not rise, tilt the head again and ensure a proper seal before giving the second breath.
  7. Perform chest compressions again. Alternate 30 compressions with two rescue breaths.
  8. If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available, give one shock.
  9. Perform chest compressions for two more minutes and give another AED shock.

The use of an AED during CPR can increase the chances of a good outcome. The AHA provides a guide to implementing an AED program in a work environment.

What does CPR stand for?

CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It is a lifesaving technique you perform on a person whose breathing or heartbeat has stopped. 

When a person’s heart stops, the supply of blood and oxygen to their brain and other vital organs also stops. This condition is known as cardiac arrest, and it can cause brain damage and death if it lasts longer than a few minutes.

CPR aims to kickstart the heart and restore oxygen to the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 9 out of 10 people who experience cardiac arrest outside of a hospital die. CPR can help improve a person’s chances of survival.

What are the types of CPR?

There are two types of CPR:

  • Hands-only CPR: This technique involves administering rapid compresses to the chest. The aim is to recreate the heart’s pumping motion. This method can help keep oxygenated blood flowing to the brain if done correctly.
  • CPR with breaths: This technique combines chest compressions with mouth-to-mouth rescue breaths. It can provide the body with oxygen and prevent serious tissue damage.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends performing hands-only CPR if you have not had CPR training. This method is simpler than mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and can be equally effective.

What situations might require CPR?

Call 911 and perform CPR immediately if a person is not breathing, is unresponsive, or has no pulse, especially after:

Where can you learn CPR?

If you want to learn CPR, the AHA and the American Red Cross provide CPR certification training courses. These courses include:

  • learning CPR chest compressions
  • learning how to give mouth-to-mouth breaths
  • learning to use an AED

Taking a CPR course is highly recommended and can save lives.

Other frequently asked questions

These are a few other questions people have asked about CPR.

When was CPR invented?

According to the AHA, a group of researchers comprising Drs. Kouwenhoven, Safar, and Jude invented CPR in 1960. However, doctors were performing methods roughly similar to CPR as far back as the 1500s.

How long does CPR certification last?

CPR certification typically expires after 2 years. However, you can renew it by taking a blended learning course.


CPR is an emergency lifesaving procedure. It helps maintains the flow of blood and oxygen through the body when a person’s heart stops or they are not breathing.

Situations that may call for CPR include suffocation and cardiac arrest. Others include a near-drowning incident, electrocution, and poisoning.

There are two types of CPR: hands-only CPR and CPR with breaths. Hands-only CPR involves performing chest compressions, while CPR with breaths involves giving compressions as well as rescue breaths. 

CPR can save lives. If you wish to learn CPR, you can take classes from the AHA and the American Red Cross.

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Medical Reviewer: Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
Last Review Date: 2022 May 31
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